House Votes to Renew Ex-Im Bank, Boost Credit Cap

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to renew the U.S. Export-Import Bank's charter until September 2014 and gradually raise its lending cap to $140 billion, disappointing conservative groups who want the nearly 80-year-old bank to die.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which is under pressure to approve the legislation before the Ex-Im Bank's temporary charter to operate expires on May 31. The White House wanted a four-year renewal, but supports the House bill.

The 330-93 House vote is welcome news for U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing <BA.N>, the bank's biggest beneficiary. Other top customers include General Electric <GE.N>, Caterpillar <CAT.N> and global engineering and construction company KBR Inc <KBR.N>.

The government credit agency provides direct loans and other financing assistance to help U.S. exporters make sales in markets too risky for private lenders.

Bank officials say they are fast approaching their current $100 billion credit cap because of record demand for Ex-Im's services the past several years.

House Republican leader Eric Cantor and House Democratic whip Steny Hoyer struck a deal late last week to renew the bank's charter until September 2014, ending months of uncertainty over the institution's future.

Cantor, in a speech on the House floor, said he was "no fan of government subsidies" embodied in the bank's loans.

But shutting down the bank would amount to "unilateral disarmament" since other government credit agencies in China, Europe and elsewhere would continue to operate, he said.

"For the first time, with this bill, it will be U.S. policy to initiate and pursue negotiations to end government export subsidies," Cantor said, referring to instructions for the Treasury Department contained in the bill.

Hoyer and other lawmakers stressed the job creating benefits of renewing the bank's charter.

"In 2011, finances from the Export-Import Bank helped create nearly 300,000 jobs at 3,600 private companies across the United States," Hoyer said.

The bill would immediately increases the bank's lending cap to $120 billion through this September.

The cap would rise to $140 billion in $10 billion increments over the following two years, as long a loan defaults remain below 2 percent and the bank meets other conditions.